Hairy, Lab-Grown Human Skin Cell Signals a Cure for Baldness

This study might give us clues to how to reverse that stubborn retreating hair line and treat baldness.
Derya Ozdemir

Thanks to the scientists who coaxed human stem cells into developing skin-like structures in vitro and engrafted them onto mice to produce hair, a cure for baldness has moved a step closer to being a reality.

A team has made this possible by leveraging information from the fields of stem-cell biology and hair-follicle development. The success of their research also highlights the potential of the approach for regenerative therapies, Nature reports.


The first hair-baring human skin organoid

Before we dive into the hard-science stuff, you should know that organoids are small, lab-grown cell groupings that are designed to model real organs. Organoids are versatile and have been grown to imitate various organs, such as the gut, lung, kidney, and brain. In this case, they were grouped into "the first hair-baring human skin organoid made with pluripotent stem cells."

Hairy, Lab-Grown Human Skin Cell Signals a Cure for Baldness
Source: Nature

In 70 days, follicles started to appear

The researchers optimized the culture conditions needed to generate skin organoids. They had components from human pluripotent stem cells and sequentially, growth factors, BMP4, and a TGF-β inhibitor were added. More than 70 days passed and follicles had started to appear. 

Genes were similar to the skin from the chin, cheek, and ear

While they lacked immune cells, the team found that their organoids expressed genes that were akin to the skin from the chin, cheek, and ear. The part where it all ties up to baldness is the fact that organoids might actually mimic scalp skin too. 

Encouraging healing and preventing scarring

When they transplanted the organoids onto immunodeficient mice, the research was a success. Distributed over the surface of the graft, over half of the organoids went on to form hair, and this is such exciting news since it also points at the fact that introducing skin organoids into wounds could encourage healing and prevent scarring.

Benjamin Woodruff, an Oregon Health & Science University graduate student who contributed by helping make the organoids, stated, "This makes it possible to produce human hair for science without having to take it from a human. For the first time, we could have, more or less, an unlimited source of human hair follicles for research."

Such studies have been done in the past, like scientists curing baldness on mice, reversing baldness with an electric hat, and using gene therapy to treat baldness, and this development is a step towards generating a limitless supply of hair follicles that can be transplanted to the scalps of people who have to thin or no hair. Once or if the research reaches the clinic, people with wounds, scars, and genetic skin diseases could benefit highly from this breakthrough research.

The study was published in Nature.

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